The European Parliament has awarded Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, imprisoned in Russia after opposing Moscow's annexation of Crimea, with its prestigious Sakharov Prize.

Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov at a court hearing in Rostov-on-Don, Russia on July 21, 2015.
Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov at a court hearing in Rostov-on-Don, Russia on July 21, 2015. (Reuters)

The European Parliament on Thursday awarded the prestigious Sakharov human rights prize to jailed Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, Russia's most famous prisoner, the assembly's political groups said.

Sentsov was among three finalists for the prize, along with a group of 11 charities rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean and Nasser Zefzafi, head of a Moroccan protest movement who has been in jail since May 2017.

Sentsov was awarded the $58,000 (50,000 euro ) prize for an "exceptional contribution" to human rights around the world, the centre-right EPP and the liberal ALDE groups in parliament said.

Kremlin critic 

Sentsov, a vocal critic of the Kremlin, is serving a 20-year term over an alleged arson plot in Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

The 42-year-old is being held in a Russian penal colony above the arctic circle.

He started a hunger strike on May 14 demanding the release of all Ukrainian prisoners in Russia, and his deteriorating health provoked an outcry from the international community.

Sentsov called off the protest after 145 days to avoid being force-fed.

Like Sentsov, Zefzafi is serving a 20-year sentence, along with three others, convicted of "plotting to undermine the security of the state" in Morocco.

His Al Hirak al Shaabi movement, based in northern Morocco's mainly Berber Rif region, was sparked by the death of a fisherman who was crushed in a rubbish truck, apparently while trying to retrieve swordfish seized by authorities.

Hirak is calling for jobs, development and an end to corruption in the North African country.

The third nomination was for 11 humanitarian groups that have been carrying out search and rescue operations to save migrant lives across the Mediterranean since 2015.

The most prominent among them are Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Save the Children and SOS Mediterranee.

The Sakharov Prize, set up in 1988 and named after Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, is awarded every year to individuals or organisations that "have made an important contribution to the fight for human rights or democracy."

Last year's award went to the democratic opposition in Venezuela.

Source: AFP